The Journal of George Fox is one of the great religious autobiographies, and has its place with the "Confessions" of St. Augustine, Saint Teresa's "Life," Bunyan's "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," the "Life of Madam Guyon, Written by Herself," and John Wesley's "Journal." The great interest which has developed in recent years in the Psychology of Religion, and in the study of mysticism, has most naturally given new interest and prominence to all autobiographical writings which lay bare the inward states and processes of the seeking, or the triumphant soul. Professor William James has stated a well-known fact when he says that religion must be studied in those individuals in whom it is manifested to an extra-normal degree. In other words, we must go to those individuals who have a genius for religion -- for whom religion has constituted well nigh the whole of life. George Fox is eminently a character of this sort, as nearly every recent student of personal religion has recognized.
Then, again, his Journal is one of the best sources in existence for the historical study of the inner life of the Commonwealth and Restoration periods. There were few hamlets so obscure, few villages so remote that they did not have their streets traversed by this strange man in leather who always travelled with his eyes open. He knew all the sects and shades of religion which flourished in these prolific times. He never rides far without having some experience which shows the spirit and tendencies of the epoch. He never writes for effect, and he would have failed if he had tried, but he has, though utterly unconscious of it himself, filled his pages with the homely stuff out of which the common life of his England was made.
The world-events which moved rapidly across the stage during the crowded years of his activity receive but scant description from his pen. They are never told for themselves. They come in as byproducts of a narrative, whose main purpose is the story of personal inward experience. The camera is set for a definite object, but it catches the whole background with it. So here we have the picture of a sensitive soul, bent singly and solely on following a Divine Voice, yet its tasks are done, not in a desert, but in the setting of great historic events. Here are the soldiers of Marston Moor and Dunbar; Cromwell and his household; Desborough and Monk; the quartering of regicides and the "new era" under the second Charles. At every point we have vivid scenes in courts, in prisons, in churches, and in inns. People of all classes and sorts talk in their natural tongue in these pages. Fox has little dramatic power, but everything which furthers, or hinders his earthly mission interests him and gets caught in his narrative. Pepys and Evelyn have readier pens, but Fox had many points of contact with the England of those days which they lacked.
In its original, unabridged form, the Journal contains many epistles, and long, arid passages which are somewhat forbidding, and it has always required a patient, faithful reader. It has, however, always had a circle of readers outside the religious body which was founded by George Fox. This circle has been composed of those who were somewhat kindred in spirit with him, and the circle has kept small, mainly owing to the inherent difficulties of the ponderous, unedited mass of material. Of the Journal, in its complete form, there have nevertheless been thirteen editions published -- nine in England and four in America.
The present editor has undertaken the task of abridging and editing it, in the belief that the time is ripe for such a work. The parts of the Journal which have been omitted -- and they are many -- have gone because they possess no living, present interest, or because they were repetitions of what is left. The story, as it stands, is continuous, and in no way suffers by omissions. The writer of the Journal lacked perspective. Everything that came was equally important, and his first editors, in 1694, looked upon these writings as too precious and sacred to be tampered with or seriously condensed. The original manuscript, which has never been published (now in the possession of Charles James Spence, of North Shields, England), shows us that the little group of early editors contented themselves with improving the diction, introducing some system into the spelling, and cutting out an occasional anecdote which they feared might startle the sober reader. The original manuscript is a little livelier, fresher and more graphic than any published edition, though in the main we have in the editions a faithful reproduction of what Fox wrote.
The notes which attend the text in this edition have seemed necessary for a clear understanding of the passages to which they refer. They have been made as brief and as few in number as the situation would warrant. The Introduction is an attempt to put George Fox in his historical setting, and to develop the central ideas which he expounded, though all points of detail are postponed to the notes. This estimate of his religious message is based on a study of the body of his writings, which are voluminous, and on the writings of his contemporaries and fellow-laborers. It is a pleasure for the editor to acknowledge the valuable assistance which he has received from his friends, Norman Penney, John Wilhelm Rowntree, Joshua Rowntree and Prof. Allen C. Thomas.
Among recent writers the following have been appreciative students of George Fox: Thomas Hodgkin, in his "George Fox"; Spurgeon, in his "George Fox"; Bancroft, in his "History of America"; Barclay, in his "Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth"; Arthur Gordon's Articles on George Fox in the Theological Review; and in the "Dictionary of National Biography"; Frank Granger, in his "The Soul of a Christian"; Starbuck, author of "Psychology of Religion"; William James, in "Varieties of Religious Experience"; Josiah Royce, in "The Mysticism of George Fox"; Canon Curteis, "Dissent in Its Relation to the English Church" (see Chapter V., "The Quakers"); Westcott's "Social Christianity" (see pp. 119-133, "The Quakers"), and John Stephenson Rowntree, "Two Lectures on George Fox."